Denny Hamlin wishes no ill will on Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick this weekend at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
He wants a clean race today, with no outside interference and an honest final push to the Sprint Cup championship.
“You really would like to beat the guy heads-up,” Hamlin said. “You almost don’t want anything to happen to anyone because you want to beat ’em straight-up, 10 weeks, no questions about it when you get down to Homestead.”
That will, of course, depend on the results of today’s Amp Energy juice 500, the most anticipated of the 10 races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Talladega is considered the “wild-card” race of the Chase, and the one where the drivers are at the mercy of one another on the track.
Because of the tight packs and high speeds, the race is a white-knuckle exercise in trying to avoid the slips, bumps and nudges that create multicar accidents.
So as the Chase hits the homestretch, Talladega becomes a critical spot on the tour. Johnson, the four-time defending series champion, takes a six-point lead over Hamlin into today.
Lurking back in third is Harvick, the winner of April’s race at Talladega, who trails by 62 points. Teammates came into play last weekend at Martinsville, where Hamlin won and Kyle Busch passed Johnson in the closing laps to take away fourth place – thus denying Johnson five more points in his race with Hamlin.
That same scenario can come into play at Talladega, and then some.
Because drafting is a critical component of plate racing, drivers will have to pick and choose carefully who they push today. The Joe Gibbs Racing drivers are likely to avoid helping Johnson, just as Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing drivers will try not to push Johnson and Hamlin to the win.
Montoya wins pole
Juan Pablo Montoya turned a lap at 184.640 mph to better Clint Bowyer (second), Kurt Busch (third) and all the contenders in Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying session at Talladega.
Joe Nemechek qualified fourth, followed by Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Most Chase contenders finished in the middle of the pack: Kevin Harvick qualified 14th, Denny Hamlin 17th and Jimmy Johnson 19th for a race that could be pivotal in shaking up the standings.
Busch wins Trucks race
Kyle Busch made a last-ditch move to take the lead from Aric Almirola and win the NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series race at Talladega Superspeedway by 0.002 of a second.
It was the closest finish in series history when using electronic scoring, NASCAR officials said.
It was Busch’s sixth victory in 13 Trucks series starts this season.
Almirola finished second, followed by Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton and Ricky Carmichael.
NASCAR’s Hunter dies
NASCAR executive and former Darlington Raceway president Jim Hunter died after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 71.
NASCAR officials announced that Hunter died Friday in Daytona Beach, Fla.
He is survived by his wife of 48 years, Ann Hunter; two children and three grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.